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Privilege 101 – Straight-splaining

May 18, 2011 by and tagged

Straight-splaining is to gay-straight conversations on sexual preference what man-splaining is to men-women conversations on gender. Just as man-splaining is men explaining to women how they behave, when they should think, which issues should be prioritized on gender topics, straigh-splaining consists of straight people telling LGBTs how they should be behave, what they should think and do regarding sexual preference-related issues such as coming out.

These forms of paternalistic explanations from privileged individuals, directed towards minorities and marginalized categories are quite common. They occur in conversations about gender, sexual preferences, as just mentioned, but also regarding race (when dominant group members lecture minorities on how they should feel about, or perceive, racism), or religion (where atheists are lectured as to how they should address religious people on religious issues).

Most invariably, these lectures involve injunctions directed at the socially subordinate group to not be so sensitive on relevant issues, to not rock the boat, to not be to blunt or assertive, to take care of not offending the dominant group because that is not helpful. And most of all, these injunctions are couched in the language of efficacy: minorities are more likely to get results by complying with demands of “good behavior” from members of the dominant group: it’s for minorities’ own good, you see.

It is one of the most powerful forms of privileges because it assumes that minorities do not know what is good for them, have limited understanding of the prejudice and discrimination against them. And it further assumes that members of the dominant group know better, by default. Members of the dominant group are the final arbiters of such matters: if they see prejudice and discrimination, it is because there is prejudice and discrimination. If they don’t see it, then, it is because it is not there and if minority group members insist that there is, they are accused of being over-sensitive.

Case in point (via Max P.):

“München – Die Debatte über ein mögliches Outing homosexueller Fußballer gewinnt an Intensität: Nun hat sich auch Nationalelf-Kapitän Philipp Lahm eingeschaltet – und schwulen Profi-Fußballern davon abgeraten, sich zu outen.

“Für denjenigen, der es tut, würde es sehr schwer werden”, sagte der beim FC Bayern München spielende Lahm der Illustrierten “Bunte”. Seiner Einschätzung nach würde ein offen schwuler Fußballer Schmährufen ausgesetzt sein. “Es ist schade, aber Schwulsein ist im Fußball – anders als in Politik und Showgeschäft – immer noch ein Tabuthema.”

Er selbst habe aber “keinerlei Berührungsängste” mit Homosexuellen. Deshalb wäre ein schwuler Mannschaftskollege für ihn auch kein Problem, so der 27-Jährige.

Seine Sichtweise widerspricht der des DFB-Präsidenten Theo Zwanziger, der sich für ein Outing schwuler Fußballer ausgesprochen und ihnen die Hilfe des Verbandes zugesagt hat. “Ich würde es mutig finden und begrüßen, wenn sich ein Bundesliga-Spieler outen würde. Er hätte auch die Unterstützung des DFB und von mir”, sagte Zwanziger im März. Ob jemand seine sexuelle Ausrichtung öffentlich mache, müsse aber jeder für sich selbst entscheiden.

Auch Nationaltorwart Manuel Neuer und Nationalstürmer Mario Gomez, Mannschaftskollege von Lahm, hatten im Laufe der gerade beendeten Saison schwulen Berufskollegen zum Outing geraten. Sie sahen darin anders als nun Lahm kein Problem.”

Yes, I know it’s in German. Philipp Lahm, captain of the Bayern Munich, one of the best German teams in the Bundesliga, is telling his gay colleagues to stay in the closet, for their own good, because, were they to come out, they would have to endure the homophobia of football audiences. He, of course, has absolutely no problems with gays. This is a big deal because he is not just anybody. On the other hand, the head of the German league is encouraging gay players to come out, and praising the courage it takes to do so.

The argument that stadium audiences are homophobic and that players would be jeered at is bogus, of course. Racist insults have never stop football teams from fielding racial minorities when it suits them. This is one of the saddest, and yet quite normal, part of football.

But it is indeed a strong sign of privilege when one takes it upon oneself to lecture gay players regarding such an important personal decision as coming out as if gay players had not considered the arguments. It is another case of “listen to your betters”. It is especially interesting to see members of the dominant group, as Captain Lahm does here, invoke the “it’s not me. I’m good with it. But society is not ready for this” argument to justify voluntary marginalization.

Because here again, dominant group members have a better sense of where society is at regarding minority issues than minorities, and one should never go against society, argues the straight-splainer while shaking his head as he deplores its lack of openness. Or as Lahm puts it, there is still a gay taboo in football, it’s a shame but there it is.

The phenomenon of man-splaining, straight-splaining or God-splaining is so widespread and so taken-for-granted that to challenge it is to be perceived as angry, “raging” or hostile, so used to having their privilege recognized in discourse are dominant group members. A perfect example is the reception that so-called New Atheists receive when they challenge people of faith. Religious people are so completely used to never having their religious views challenged (another major sign of privilege) that the most basic question is perceived as open warfare.

And, of course, to cast one’s opponent as angry or hostile, is a nice way of dismissing the issues by focusing on tone and arguing for civility (which, in that case, means not questioning privileged discourses and ideologies).

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